On November 26, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases regarding whether for-profit corporations can legally refuse to provide insurance coverage for birth control for their employees if doing so conflicts with owners’ religious beliefs.
The hearing will consider two very similar cases— Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, No. 13-354, and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, No. 13-356—that nonetheless had different outcomes in different state courts.
Regarding the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration has said that nonprofit religious groups are exempt from the legal requirement to cover contraception, but for-profit businesses cannot opt out of same due to religious objections. Lower courts are largely divided on the issue.
In June 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver, Colorado ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores. Family-owned, they have stated that they run the chain according to their Christian values; they are objecting to the ACA’s requirement that they provide each of Hobby Lobby’s over fifteen thousand employees, who belong to many kinds of faiths, comprehensive insurance coverage for contraception.
Although the family told the court that they have no opposition to providing coverage for many types of birth control, anything that can prevent a fertilized zygote from implanting is something they consider a form of abortion, which they are against being complicit to.
In July, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia ruled against Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation in a similar case; the company is also owned by a family, who follow the Mennonite faith. The court ruled that “for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise.” The family is appealing their case.
The questions the Supreme Court will have to consider if businesses can legally be considered to hold religious beliefs, if providing contraception that would “significantly infringe” on those beliefs, and if the government has sufficient interest in guaranteeing the employees of those businesses access to the contraception of their choice.